What really happened when the President met the Pope?

The two leaders

Predictably, the media focussed on the bumps in the road between the US and Vatican, while the Obama administration stressed areas of agreement, reports NCR Online.

When a president visits the Vatican, the Vatican's principal focus is international issues (Ukraine, Syria, the Middle East, Africa, refugees, religious freedom, etc.). But the Vatican also always wants to support local bishops when they are in conflict with their government.

This template was followed in the Obama visit. In its press release following the meeting, the Vatican said the meeting was 'cordial,' and 'views were exchanged on some current international themes.' It was hoped that 'in areas of conflict, there would be respect for humanitarian and international law and a negotiated solution between the parties involved.'

The US government and the Vatican would obviously agree on these issues, although in the past, the U.S. has been more eager to resolve international issues with military means than would the Vatican. Obama reversed his decision to bomb Syria after the Pope called for a day of fasting and prayer for peace. The Vatican would also want to see more humanitarian and development aid than the Congress is willing to appropriate.

According to the Vatican, the discussion also expressed 'the common commitment to the eradication of trafficking of human persons in the world.' This was a major concern of Pope Francis when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina. He has recently instituted a major interfaith effort against human trafficking in partnership with Al-Azhar University.

This commitment, rather than areas of disagreement, was emphasized after the meeting in a headline in L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper: 'Impegno comune' ('Common commitment'). While Vatican Radio prior to the visit stressed controversy, after the meeting, the Vatican newspaper headlined common purpose.

But the Vatican press release also noted that there was discussion on questions such as 'the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection,' which was a veiled reference to the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act. The U.S. bishops wanted this brought up, and not to have mentioned it would have left them out in the cold.

FULL STORY Meeting between Obama and Francis follows Vatican template (NCR Online)

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